Sleep is a forgotten country of the mind: A vast majority of our technologies are built for our awake state, even though a third of our lives are spent asleep. Current technological interfaces miss out on an opportunity to access information from the unique cognition ongoing during dreams and drowsiness. In this project, we explore ways to augment human creativity by extending, influencing and capturing dreams in stage 1 sleep. It is currently impossible to force ourselves to be creative because so much creative idea association and creative incubation happens in the absence of executive control and directed attention. Sleep offers an opportunity for prompting creative thought in the absence of directed attention, if only dreams can be controlled.

During sleep onset, a window of opportunity arises in the form of hypnagogia, a semi-lucid sleep state where we all begin dreaming before we fall fully unconscious. Hypnagogia is characterized by phenomenological unpredictability, distorted perception of space and time and spontaneous, fluid idea association. Edison, Tesla, Poe and DalĂ­ each accessed this state by napping with a steel ball in hand to capture creative ideas generated in hypnagogic microdreams when it dropped to the floor below.

In this project we modernize this technique, using an interactive social robot accompanied with an EEG system, muscular sleep stage tracking system, and auditory biofeedback. We are able to influence, extract information from, and extend hypnagogic microdreams for the first time: We found that active use of hypnagogia with the system can augment human creativity. This system enables future research into sleep, an underutilized and understudied state of mind vital for memory, learning and creativity.

Collaborators: Ishaan Grover, Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar